There’s probably a stage musical waiting to be written about one and a half hit wonders Thunderclap Newman.
The one hit was, of course, Something In the Air, which spent 12 weeks in the 1969 charts, three of them at number one – replacing The Beatles’ Ballad of John and Yoko and holding off Elvis Presley, and still a much played golden oldie and go-to tv commercial track.
The half was its follow up, Accidents, which charted a year later, peaking (and troughing) for a week at 46. Bonus points for anyone who can remember anything about it.
With its invitation to “call out the instigators because there’s something in the air” the chart topper was lyrically a ludicrous slice of beyond the barricades call to arms, an invitation to join a post flower power rebellion which was originally titled Revolution, but later renamed because The Beatles had beaten them to it and released a song of that name in 1968 (the B-side of Hey Jude).
Certainly the latest group to bear what sounded like a solo performer’s name didn’t look like revolutionaries – and one the band’s original members should really still have been at school or at least doing his homework whilst another looked like he’d not quite finished his tenure as a GPO engineer.
The band was actually formed by Pete Townshend of The Who and Kit Lambert in a bid to showcase the talents of John “Speedy” Keen (songwriter, vocalist, drummer and guitarist), Jimmy McCulloch (guitar), and Andy “Thunderclap” Newman (piano). Whilst clearly still keeping day job with The Who, Townshend (using the alias “Bijou Drains”) played bass guitar on their album and singles, all of which he recorded and produced at the IBC Studio and his Twickenham home studio.
The Who’s Chauffer
Townshend had come across Keen when he was The Who’s chauffer prior to him writing the opening track on The Who Sell Out album – Armenia City in the Sky.
Keen, Newman and McCulloch allegedly met each other for the first time in December 1968 or January 1969 at Townshend’s home studio specifically to record Something In the Air.
Townshend produced the single and to augment Keen hired GPO engineer and Dixieland jazz pianist “Thunderclap” Newman (born Andrew Laurence Newman, November 21, 1942) and the 15-year-old Glaswegian guitarist Jimmy McCulloch.
Before then, Townshend had planned to work on projects for each of the musicians, but Kit Lambert suggested he got on with his planned rock opera so to save time put the three decidedly different musicians into the collective project that became Thunderclap Newman.
By December 1969, the single was awarded a gold disc for world sales of more than a million.
They never originally intended playing live but a million selling single can do strange things to you. Line-ups came and went until they finally imploded in April 1971, days before they were scheduled to start a tour of Scotland and weeks before they were scheduled to be part of a package tour with Marsha Hunt and others during The Who’s 12-week tour of the US.
Their own revolution came because the members of the band had little in common. In a 1972 NME interview, Newman said that he got on with Keen’s music but not with Keen personally, while the exact opposite was true with regard to McCulloch.
So what about the stage musical? Well, in act one the good news is that they could have become a flung together Monkees doppelganger. For act two the bad news is that after his glory days with Thunderclap Newman, McCulloch had stints with a dozen or more bands, including John Mayall, Stone the Crows, and Paul McCartney’s Wings and at the age of 26 he died in his home of heroin-induced cardiac arrest on September 25, 1979. His body was not discovered by his brother, Jack, until two days later.
Keen suffered from arthritis for several years, and was recording his third solo album, when he unexpectedly died of heart failure at the age of 56 on March 12, 2002.
And Andy “Thunderclap” Newman died on March 29, 2016, at the age of 73.
Call out the undertakers? All a bit too tragic for a musical? It never stopped Les Miserables and Pete Townshend did manage to work wonders with the deaf, dumb and blind kid called Tommy who had actually helped Thunderclap Newman become a chart topping band.
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